Volvo L90G Gets a Tough Workout

Aug. 26, 2013

When an equipment manufacturer lends Construction Equipment one of its new models, and we in turn hand it over to the operator/instructors at Local 150 (I.U.O.E.) for their opinions about the machine’s features and performance, the Local 150 crew never hesitates to push the machine to its limits.

So when the new Volvo L90G wheel loader arrived at the Local’s training center in Wilmington, Ill., operator/instructors Sean Poyner and Todd Peterson immediately put it to work in a stockpile of crushed limestone having a high content of both dense fines and moisture—heavy, cohesive material that heaped in the L90G’s 3.4-cubic yard bucket at obviously more than the usual S.A.E. 2-to-1 angle of repose.

After each operator had used the Volvo to load the Local’s Cat 730 articulated dump truck a number of times, we solicited initial reactions:

“It was a little light in the back with this material, but not uncomfortable,” said Poyner. “We were heaping the bucket just to see what it would do, so obviously you’re not going to come screaming up to the truck with a load like this and hit the hooks—you’ll stand it on its nose. On the job, you’d give the bucket a twitch to shake off some material to keep from spilling it all over.”

“I’m guessing we were coming out of the pile at least 10 percent overloaded,” said Peterson. “It felt a bit light, so it’s good that it has extra counterweight.”

But actually it didn’t. When area manager Park Allison from McAllister Equipment—the Volvo dealer who supplied the machine—gave us an initial overview of the machine, he noted that it had auxiliary hydraulics, qualifying it for a heavier “logging” counterweight, which looks little different from the standard rear bumper/counterweight, but adds 1,100 pounds.

We all assumed the L90G had the extra weight, but not until Allison closely inspected the machine after it worked in the limestone, did we discover that it was running with its standard counterweight. Turns out that the logging counterweight is itself an option with the auxiliary-circuit option.

With that revelation, Peterson and Poyner were impressed that the Volvo could come out of the pile with these huge loads and handle them as well as it did, even in a short load-and-carry exercise that Poyner devised around the stockpile. They were of the opinion, though, that if our Volvo were to be used in an application where it might be routinely loading material as heavy and cohesive as the limestone, it would benefit from added counterweight.

According to Doug Phillips, Volvo product manager, the practical utilization factor for wheel loaders is typically 50 percent of static full-turn tip, which for the L90G would be just a bit more than 10,000 pounds with the 3.4-cubic- yard bucket. With a 110-percent fill factor (which the operators likely were attaining—probably more), bucket volume would have been at least 3.75 cubic yards. Considering the material’s weight, the Volvo was being pushed hard.

In a later exercise, when excavating heaping loads of black dirt from an outlying area of the Local’s 300-acre site and then traveling at top speed along a load-and-carry route with a number of moderately steep hills, the operators agreed that the Volvo made an excellent showing.

“The overall stability and hydraulic power of this machine is excellent,” said Peterson. “The bucket on the Volvo rolls back farther than most, so if you get a heaping load, it’s easier to keep it. I’d be inclined to make the extra counterweight a standard feature, but that said, when we were loading dirt and getting normal buckets, it handled just fine.”

The operators did the black-dirt load-and-carry with the L90G’s boom-suspension (ride-control) system both activated and switched off: “The boom-suspension makes a big difference,” said Peterson. “You can run at full throttle with the system on, but you’re going to slow down when it’s off. The machine didn’t feel light even across the berms at full speed.”

Allison explained that the L90G’s boom-suspension has two modes, allowing automatic engagement/disengagement of the system based on either ground speed or gear selection, whichever best suits the loading situation.

“I do like the ride control on this machine,” said Poyner. “I experimented with both the speed and the gear settings, and the machine didn’t lose a stone of material when traveling. It’s a nice ride.”

“Eco pedal” opinions

“Volvo builds high-torque/low-rpm engines,” explained Allison during a walk-around tour of the L90G, “and optimum power for loading is around 1,300 to 1,500 rpm. But since many operators run at full throttle from habit, Volvo developed the eco pedal. It’s just a resistance built into the throttle at the engine’s sweet spot. It’s easy enough to push through for added speed when traveling, but it does conserve fuel.”

Our operators seemed initially not completely convinced that the eco pedal was a good idea: “I usually don’t have a problem with the throttle,” said Poyner, “because it doesn’t go any farther than the floor.” Nonetheless, Allison encouraged them to try it when working in the limestone.

“There was no lack of power in the eco range,” said Peterson, “but my take on it is that you have to push through it to get a full bucket. You go into the pile and it stops, but if you hit the throttle just a bit, it gets down and bites.”

And Poyner?

“You know what? I thought I was running full out all the time I was loading, and it wasn’t until I did that little load-and-carry at the end that I realized there was pedal left. To be honest, I’m surprised at how well I got along with the eco pedal.”

Loader linkage and coupler design

Both operators, however, are fans of the patented Volvo Torque-Parallel loader linkage (Local 150 has a 1996 L90 in its fleet). The linkage is designed to combine the aggressive digging characteristics of Z-bar linkage with the level-lifting capability of parallel-lift linkage. The proprietary, hydraulically actuated Volvo attachment bracket is standard on the L90G, and Poyner said that it has definite advantages over conventional couplers.

“I learned to appreciate the Volvo coupler when I worked for a contractor who had an older Volvo in the fleet. The coupler’s open in the back, so you have good visibility when using forks, and the forks are attached top and bottom, so they don’t swing out—they’re always pointing in the direction the linkage is tilted. The system is ideal for stacking those heavy concrete forms used on highway jobs—the laborers love you.”

Peterson agreed: “I like the parallel-lift feature on this machine; some loaders don’t have it, and on others you have to set it. But on the Volvo, it’s automatic. With conventional linkage, a new guy could be spilling block all over.”

Peterson also commented on what he called the “sealed design” of the coupler, with the locking cylinders protected from debris and damage. He was especially impressed with the safety aspects of the system.

“I’ve seen operators pick up an attachment, and because it’s not locked, it comes loose,” said Peterson, “so a big concern for us is teaching our members the safety aspects of couplers. When you’re in a hurry on the job and pick up some pipe or whatever, that’s when these mishaps occur. But the Volvo system makes you think about what you’re doing, because you get a flashing warning to check that the attachment’s secure, and you have to hit escape to eliminate the warning—so it’s a reminder to push against the linkage to check that the tool’s locked.”

The operators did some maneuvering with a section of highway barrier on the forks, and both agreed that the Volvo linkage makes the L90G an excellent fork machine. In fact, the forks were borrowed from the Local’s old Volvo and fit perfectly on the new machine.

L90G transmission features

Allison explained to the operators that the L90G’s power-shift transmission has four shift modes—Low, Medium, High, Auto—which can be selected to suit a particular operating situation, such as using “H” in sandy soil to lengthen shift intervals to attain higher engine and ground speeds. The Auto setting selects among the other three modes as the operating situations vary.

“I ran in Auto,” said Poyner, “and shifting was seamless. If you can run a machine and take no notice of how it’s shifting, then in my opinion, it’s a good system. But I really wasn’t impressed with the transmission disconnect, because whatever setting it was in, seemed as if you had to really stand on the brake pedal to get it to function.”

Allison explained that the disconnect system can be shut off, but when it’s on, the operator can select from four settings, with each successive setting requiring greater pedal travel (more service brake) before the transmission disconnects.

“I didn’t find much difference in the settings,” said Peterson. “I run without using the disconnect, anyway, but seemed you need a pretty heavy foot with this system.”

Operator visibility and convenience

“One of the first features I noticed on this machine was that the front door post is about even with the front edge of the seat,” said Peterson, “so you gain about 8 inches or so side visibility. It doesn’t sound like much, but it does widen your field of view. Most machines have the forward post even with the steering column; it creates a blind spot that you’re always looking around.

“I agree,” said Poyner. “It’s big improvement over older designs.”

Peterson also took note of features he liked in the cab, such the forward/reverse toggle switch within easy reach of the boom/bucket levers—“just roll your wrist slightly and hit it with your finger,” he said—and the rearview camera monitor, which he said was in a good spot (adjacent to the right-hand cab post) to catch in your peripheral vision.

Poyner did mention, however, that the L90G’s dash position makes seeing some of the gauges difficult:

“The gauges around the perimeter were easy enough to see, but some of the digital displays in the center were difficult to read. I thought at first it was just the way the sun was hitting the dash, but that wasn’t the case. I’d tweak those so they’d pop, that way you could look down for a just an instant and read them.”

We asked the operators to summarize their experience with the L90G:

“A lot of loaders are coming close with creature comforts,” said Peterson, “but the Volvo has an accommodating operator’s environment—heated air-suspension seat and air conditioning. I prefer single-lever control, but I liked the dual controls in this machine and the convenience of the directional-shift switch. Visibility is good, especially with the rearview camera, and the safety of the coupler system is an excellent feature.”

“I liked it—I liked it a lot,” said Poyner. “I’ve run older L90s, and this one had the same feel, but it’s more comfortable, has a better ride, better visibility and more power. And I’m still a Volvo fan when it comes to using forks. I was impressed that our old forks fit the new machine—saves expense for owners.”